NOAA Assists With Multi-Agency Effort to Decontaminate Ships Passing through Oil Spill

May 28, 2010

NOAA has begun work to survey a new ship anchorage site at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico for ships to undergo inspection and oil decontamination before entering ports.

Ship fully loaded with corn headed down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and then to Haifa Isreal-crop.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The contract magnetometer survey of a proposed alternate anchorage site would ensure the safety of ships, their crew, and the marine environment by making sure that there are no buried pipelines in the proposed area that would be ruptured by ships lowering their anchors. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy to establish the alternative anchorage area.

Shipping vessels are currently facing increasing time delays and other challenges as they attempt to avoid the oil slicks caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Keeping maritime commerce going is important to many businesses, such as farmers who need to export their crops through the Gulf ports and the millions of stores throughout the country that rely on a constant flow of imports.

The survey will take place at the Southwest Pass, the primary deep draft entrance to the Mississippi, which is used extensively by ships bringing commercial goods to the U.S. The Lower Mississippi River ports are important players in the billion-dollar U.S. maritime economy.

Once the area is surveyed and the U.S. Coast Guard gives clearance, ships needing hull inspections for oil contamination from the ongoing spill could use this anchorage area for waiting.

So that work can start immediately, NOAA awarded the task order to C&C Technologies of Lafayette, La., under the agency’s existing hydrographic services contract. The team from C&C Technologies will deploy aboard a vessel under the command of the Naval Oceanographic Office. The results should be provided to the U.S. Coast Guard by June 1 at the latest, and possibly earlier. NOAA will update its navigational products based on the results of this survey and the Coast Guard's determination of the area's suitability as an anchorage location.

The Lower Mississippi River ports export over 50 million metric tons of corn, soybeans and wheat each year, more than 55 percent of all U.S. grains inspected for shipment. Grain market participants and Midwestern farmers need efficient port operations to export product, as do segments of the economy that rely on timely import arrivals. NOAA's work in ensuring efficient maritime transportation during this ecological crisis is key to a healthy U.S. economy.

NOAA is also developing new chart products for Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. While NOAA’s nautical charts are essential for safe navigation throughout the oil spill region, the agency continues to respond to specific charting requests that meet response needs. NOAA cartographers are supplying coastline contour data – depicting underwater surfaces – needed for planning boom placement. NOAA is also producing special nautical charts depicting points for water testing.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook.